Like many other people, I almost never email coworkers these days. My default is Slack. Slack conversations are quicker, more productive, and—let’s be honest—more fun than email. (Emoji all the things!) And when you keep everything in Slack, it's easy to find files, search previous discussions, and get new people up to speed.
The only problem? When I’m working with external contributors—perhaps co-marketing partners, freelancers, or creative agencies—I’m stuck in my email inbox. We each use Slack with our own teams, but our Slack accounts can’t talk to each other. That means the information silos Slack works to solve still exist between organizations rather than within.
Until now. Slack recently launched shared channels, joint rooms between two separate Slack workspaces. Think of a shared channel as a bridge between your organization and another. You can seamlessly flip between conversations with your coworkers and, say, a PR agency without ever leaving Slack.
Shared channels can be used in tons of different ways. Here's how to set up and manage shared Slack channels—along with ideas for how to use them in your company.
Bonus: Not using Slack yet? Sign up with this special offer link for Zapier readers and get a $100 credit towards your new Slack account.
How to Create a Shared Slack Channel
Ready to join your Slack channel with another team? You'll first need to:
Be a Slack Workspace Owner or Admin
Have a Slack Standard or Plus plan (you can't share channels from free accounts)
Know the Slack URL for the team you want to invite (for example eclipse-enterprise.slack.com)
Know the email address of Slack Workspace Owner or Admin for the other team
Slack shared channels is a beta feature for now—so you'll first need to join the beta. If you haven’t done so yet, open Slack, click your workspace name in the upper left, choose Shared Channels (beta), then click Join the beta.
Now, in your Slack sidebar, there should be a new Shared Channels section along with your normal Starred, Channels, and Direct Messages sections. Click the + symbol beside Shared Channels to add a new one.
Select the people on your team who can access the shared channel, then give the channel a name, invite your team members, and click Next. Then it's finally time to invite the other team. Enter the email address of the other organization’s Workspace Owner or Admin along with their Slack URL, then click Create and Invite.
Now you've got a shared Slack channel that works on both your team's and your collaborating team's Slack accounts.
Share an Existing Slack Channel
You can share existing Slack channels with other companies—though keep in mind the new members will be able to see all the messages, bots, and users in that channel. If you’re worried about accidentally sharing something, it’s better to start a brand new channel.
Still, if you want to share an existing channel (and have already enabled the Slack Shared Channels beta), open the channel then click the gear icon, select Additional Options, then click Share this channel with another workspace. Then enter the other organization's Workspace owner or Admin’s email address along with their Slack URL, and click Share Channel.
Join a Shared Slack Channel
If another team has created the shared channel, all you have to do is accept the invite. Open the invitation email, click Accept & Add Channel, and you'll see the new shared channel under the Shared Channels section in your Slack sidebar.
Manage Slack Shared Channel Privacy
Perhaps the most crucial factor in Slack shared channels is privacy. Admins can choose whether a channel is public or private for their respective workspace (meaning a channel could be public or private for both, or public on one side and private on the other).
When a channel is private, people can only join by invitation. The channel’s content will only be searchable for members. When a channel is public, it works like any other Slack channel—anyone in the Slack teams where it's public can see its full contents.
I recommend keeping shared channels public whenever possible for transparency and knowledge-sharing. However, private shared channels are useful whenever you’re dealing with sensitive information. Imagine you have a channel to discuss the details of an impending acquisition; you’d probably want to keep that channel private so that news of the acquisition doesn’t get out until you’re ready for an announcement.
Pro tip: Only working with one external person? Consider using Slack’s "Guest" feature instead. It lets you add people to single, specific channels so they can see those conversations without accessing your company's full Slack. You can give guest accounts automatic expiration dates, too, to ensure you don't forget to remove a contractor after a project.
Slack Shared Channel Best Practices
Beyond privacy, there are a few other things you should think about when sharing a Slack channel with another team. After all, company culture and work styles are strongly reflected in Slack conversations—and you'll need to find a way to both merge your team's chat cultures and work together in a tool you're accustomed to using only with your team.
First, clarify what the channel should be used for. You probably have one overarching goal and several sub-goals; for example, if you set up a channel with a recruiting agency, your primary objective might be "Filling open positions for Dunder Mifflin." Sub-goals may include getting info on potential hires, sharing feedback, and providing job descriptions, salary ranges, and other relevant information.
It sounds obvious, but confirm both teams are on the same page. Share your objectives with the other team and ask, "Does that look right to you? Is there anything you’d add or take out?" This step ensures your team members will use the channel in the same ways—something you can perhaps list in your channel's description.
Next, come up with basic channel guidelines. Different teams have different Slack cultures. At HubSpot, for example, the most popular response to good news is emoji reactions. In other companies, however, people start threads so they can write their own short congratulations. Maybe your team members use pretty colorful language, while at some companies, anything more explicit than "Jumping Juniper!" is frowned upon. To ensure there aren’t any clashes, list channel rules and expectations beforehand. Ask the other admin how their company uses Slack and if there are any written (or unwritten codes of behavior).
Finally, talk about whom you’ll invite to the shared channel. Will it be public or private for both of your teams? Are you planning on including just three or four of the most necessary people, or are you opening it up to anyone who’s involved in the project? Do you care about how many members they invite? Setting expectations now will help you avoid a channel that’s far larger (or smaller) than you’d like.
Once you're done, create a document that outlines the channel’s purpose and guidelines, and pin it to the channel for a handy way to keep everyone on the same page.
6 Ways to Use Slack Shared Channels with Anyone
Now that you can share Slack channels, you're likely ready to go share channels with your freelancers, consultants, advisors, and more. But chatting about standard work projects isn't the only thing shared channels are good for.
Here are six ideas to help you get inspired, with automated Zapier workflows to connect your new shared Slack channels with the rest of the apps you rely on to stay productive:
Sales Partners Channel
Relying on another person or company to sell for you can feel like trying to walk a blindfolded person through preparing a five-course meal while you’re in the next room. There needs to be a lot of trust and communication on both sides. A shared channel can be the ideal solution.
Set up a shared channel with your reseller, value-added provider, or other channel partner to teach them how to sell your product, share product or company updates, pass along new sales collateral and marketing materials, celebrate sales wins, check in on their progress, share leads, request customer or deal information, and resolve issues.
Creative Agency Channel
Planning a campaign with an external marketing or PR agency involves lots of back-and-forth, moving deadlines, and sign-offs. Over email, it's fraught with potential challenges. Centralizing everything in Slack makes the process a little more manageable.
Creditcards.com, a card comparison service, used a shared channel to coordinate its branding and messaging overhaul with external teams. The Austin-based marketing team was working with two agencies—one in San Francisco and one in New York. Their shared channels became a place to hash out ideas, share and review creative assets, and discuss strategy.
"The shared channels really brings a new layer of engagement with our agencies, especially across multiple time zones," says Fred Saunders, head of branding and marketing at CreditCards.com. "It gives us the ability to iterate, share thoughts, and get responses much faster. The only way we would have been able to hit the date that I was pushing for, which was rather aggressive, was through this accelerated engagement."
Account Management Channel
Slack shared channels can also be used for account management for VIP customers. Invite your customer and their account manager, salesperson (if they’re responsible for upselling or cross-selling), and anyone else who’s involved—perhaps a support manager, implementation specialist, or product expert—to the same channel.
Use this channel to share delivery and installation details, train them on the product, troubleshoot, answer questions, and let them know about upcoming updates. Have new products you'd like to share with them, or an upcoming event? This is the perfect place to do it. And once you're chatting, you might discover more ways you can improve your product for their needs.
Client Command Center
Managing freelancers for your company—or working as a freelancer for multiple companies on your own? With a shared channel for each freelancer—or client—you can streamline your processes. You can receive project briefs, give progress updates, ask questions, turn in work, submit invoices and time logs, and get notified about payments all in the same shared Slack channel.
It's easier on everyone, since you can communicate like a regular part of the team and don't have to search through countless email threads.
Logistics Partner Channel
Your distribution and fulfillment partners are a major part of customer satisfaction. Oftentimes, quick communication means the customer gets their product faster or has their issue resolved in less time. That’s why creating a shared channel with your logistics partner, as fashion brand Everlane did, makes sense.
Customers of Everlane are able to utilize Happy Returns’ "Return Bars" to return purchases and get instant refunds in local retail centers. To manage those returns, the two companies have a shared channel to solve customer problems, report tech issues in real time, and help answer questions while the customer is standing right there.
"One of the biggest benefits of having shared channels is using Slack to communicate with vendors with their timely requests, since email would not be very helpful if there’s someone waiting with a product to return," says Everlane digital product manager Brian Alenduff.
A shared channel can also useful for getting notifications for orders, returns, inventory counts, shipping updates and delays, and more. Instead of checking your logistics partner's site or waiting on email updates, you'll know what's happening right away.
Brain Trust Channel
Forming a "brain trust" between your team and its equivalent team at another company is an easy, informal way to get fresh perspectives, discuss industry best practices, and learn from each other’s mistakes and accomplishments.
For example, if you run a social media marketing team, you could start a shared channel with a social media marketing team at a non-competitive company. The next time Facebook changes its algorithm, you can start a discussion about the implications and how your brands should react. When you’re evaluating new ad platforms, like Quora or Reddit, you can ask whether they’ve had success on either. If they’re stuck on ad copy, your team can offer some feedback and suggestions.
Slack isn't just another way to chat. Once everyone in your company starts using it, Slack becomes the thriving hub behind everything you do, the one place with the most details about all of your ideas and projects.
Shared channels makes that even better. Instead of having to switch between email and your team's discussions on a project or reshare details when a partner forgets them, a Slack shared channel gives both of your teams the same Slack benefits of keeping everything in one place. It's a quick way to communicate with others—one you might even find yourself using to collaborate more than before.
Here's that $100 Slack credit again to get your teams started communicating better.
→ Want to get the most out of Slack? Check out our guide to 12 ways to stay productive in Slack with tips to help with chat overload and quickly clean up your message backlog—or learn how to make your own Slack bot to get more work done right from your chat conversations.
Title image by Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta via Flickr.